Science Channel - InSCIder

27 Dec

Top 5 Tech Fails of 2012

Keyboard-fail-350x210 It's that time of year when we celebrate the scientific and technological breakthroughs of the previous 12 months. But we'd be remiss if we didn't also highlight some of 2012's epic FAILs, kludgemonsters that went so outrageously awry that they might merit a spot in the Valhalla of failed inventions occupied by the likes of Microsoft Clippy, New Coke, CueCat, and the Hindenburg.

Okay, time for one of you out there to play the paint-can drum roll...

1. Apple Maps

When you have two global tech giants, each with dreams of global domination and competing smartphone platforms, it's no surprise that they don't much like each other. So it wasn't much of a shock when Apple deleted Google Maps from its roster of pre-installed iPhone apps, and replaced it with a clone, Apple Maps. The problem was that Apple Maps had a disturbing tendency to give users directions that were, well, ah, not always correct. In Australia, police actually admonished motorists not to use the new app at all, after four incidents in which drivers trying to reach an Australian town were guided errantly into the sun-scorched bush of a national park. Ultimately, Apple's CEO Tim Cook had to apologize to customers, who then uploaded the new iOS 6 in droves--after Google unveiled its own new map app.

2. ORCA

This was the Romney campaign's answer to President Obama's tech-savvy reelection effort--a massive, web-based election-day intelligence gathering system, designed to enable 30,000 polling place watchers across the nation use their smartphones to provide Romney headquarters with a continuous, real-time view of how the vote count was developing, as well as hints on where it might need to cajole lethargic supporters into getting out and casting ballots. But as this campaign insider's blog post details, ORCA--so poorly designed that its manual ran to 60 pages--promptly beached itself at the worst possible time, leaving the campaign blind. One problem was the omission of a forwarding function that would allow users who inadvertently typed in "http" rather than "https" to get to the website. 

3. Siri tells users that Nokia has the best phone

Apparently, the iPhone's intelligent assistant occasionally forgets which team it's playing on. As PCWorld's Ed Oswald reported in May, when asked what is the best smartphone ever, Siri replied, "Nokia Lumia 900." 

4. Power outages in India

And to think that you get irritated whenever the lights briefly flicker during a thunderstorm. In July, a massive collapse of three of India's five electricity grids left 700 million people without power, in what a British newspaper, the Guardian, called "the world's worst blackout of recent times." Apparently, the breakdown was caused by surging electrical demand in a fast-growing nation whose electrical infrastructure hasn't kept pace with the rest of its technology. Now, that sounds familiar.

5. North Korean space technicians' retro consoles and lab coats

After an embarrassing failed rocket launch in April, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un managed to successfully launch a space satellite in December. North Korean government-controlled media elaborately promoted as evidence of the totalitarian regime's technological wizardry. That wasn't an easy bit of spin to pull off, considering that they'd only managed to duplicate a feat achieved by the U.S.--which wasn't even first, thanks to Sputnik--back in January 1958. It didn't help that pictures of North Korea's mission control center look like something out of the vintage James Bond movie Dr. No, complete with boxy computer terminals, and technicians inexplicably clad in white lab coats. Memo to Supreme Leader: Might be a good idea to augment your late father's movie collection with some more recent flicks. We hear Skyfall is pretty good.

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